Neither a bad starting spot, the threat of a tropical storm nor late race restarts could keep Martin Truex Jr. from victory lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday.
Truex held off Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick on a green white checkered flag finish to cap off a rally from a 17th place starting spot to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America 500. It was his sixth win of the season, five of those coming at 1.5-mile tracks.
“I’m so lucky to get to do this and I don’t know, it’s just one of those weekends – lot of pressure,” Truex said. “We qualified horribly and I was mad about it. Cole (Pearn, crew chief) was mad about it and twenty minutes we’re like alright, I think this is where we went wrong. And he’s like yeah, that’s where we went wrong.”
Unlike those previous wins, the run for Truex was not the dominate performance of the past. Starting outside the top 10 for the first time in NASCAR’s playoffs, Truex also failed to win a stage. Instead he used a fast car and flawless pit strategy to take the lead for the final time on lap 283 of 334. From there he held off all challengers for the 14th win of his career his second in the playoffs and his second at Charlotte.
“Unbelievable win,” he said. “Just a total team effort. Every single guy – every guy on this team just did a perfect job today and I can’t be more proud of them and at this time of the year is just when you want it to happen. You dream about days like today. I don’t know if we had the best car, but we damn sure go it in victory lane.”
For Elliott it was his sixth second place finish of the season and came a week after a heartbreaking second place at Dover.
“Definitely doesn’t make last week any better by any means,” Elliott said. “But the way we’ve run over the past two weeks is definitely refreshing. You hope that we can keep running like we are, and like I said a minute ago, if we can, then opportunities will definitely be there. If we capitalize on them, hopefully we’ll have our day.”
Kevin Harvick, who led a race high 149 laps saw his crew stumble on a late race pit stop and had to settle for third, pole sitter Denny Hamlin was fourth with Jamie McMurray fifth.
“That’s about about where we were gonna run, second or third,” Harvick said. “We just kind of lost a little bit of the track there as the VHT started to wear off in the second half of the race. But they did a great job all day. For the most part, we had good stops all day – just the timing of the bad one came at the end, but, for the most part, they did a great job. Everybody in the field had a bad stop at some point today.”
Daniel Suarez was sixth followed by Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson rounding out the top 10.
Nine of those top 10 finishers were playoff drivers. One driver who wasn’t was Kyle Busch. Busch led 22 laps early, but on lap 137 hit the wall exiting turn 4 mirroring a practice crash on Friday. From that point he would hit the wall twice more, then spin. He finished 29th. After the race he climbed from his Toyota and collapsed on the ground overheated. After some quick medical attention, he was able to walk to an ambulance while smiling. Among the other playoff drivers: Matt Kenseth was 11th, Brad Keselowski 15th.
Several drivers joined Busch in the infield care center after the race with heat related symptoms.
In his final Cup race at Charlotte as a fulltime Cup driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished a quiet 12th.
Teams faced challenges all weekend as the only track time came on Friday with a single practice session and qualifying. Saturday’s practices were cancelled by rain from approaching tropical storm Nate; the same storm that forced NASCAR to move up the time of Sunday’s race by an hour. In the end, the race ran without a weather delay.
After being eliminated in this round last season, Truex has punched his ticket to the Round of 8 and has no worries as NASCAR heads to Talladega.
“You have no idea man,” Truex said. “It feels unbelievable. I’ve never went there before and not been nervous about crashing or something bad happening. Seems like we’ve always had bad luck there, so it’s going to be fun next week.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for next Sunday’s Alabama 500. Live coverage will be on NBC starting at 2:00 p.m. ET.